19 Apr 2014

Books for blokes: what will get men reading?

I can never forget the first time I saw somebody reading an e-book. It was on a plane, in the USA, and a very smart looking executive lady sat in front of me – flipping open a Kindle, helpfully set to maximum text size. It turned out to be a time travel romance set in Medieval Scotland, in which the heroine is graphically ravished by a kilted laird.

I still don’t know the title, nor do I want to.


Women buy nearly two-thirds of all books – a majority that’s increased with the advent of tablet readers. This week a survey told us two-thirds of blokes think they don’t read enough – on the face of it a bad thing.

The Daily Telegraph has commissioned a list of 10 books to get men reading – including a non-fiction book about the first world war and the autobiography of football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Let’s face it lads: we were brought up to read the manual of a Vauxhall Astra, the instructions for an Airfix kit. The real problem is we don’t read as much literature as women, despite the great sexist canon of western letters being predominantly male.

One reason for this, rarely acknowledged, is that there is no male equivalent of the bodice ripper – or rather there is, but you’re more likely to find it on a site like literotica.com than Mills & Boon.

The male equivalent of softcore romantic fiction – which forms a fair percentage of all book sales – used to be the detective novel or the crime story in general. But these have, if anything, lost emotional depth. If you compare Damon Runyon or Raymond Chandler to, for example, to something from the Uzi and black face paint genre, you will see the difference in complexity.

So in the spirit of expanding everybody’s emotional literacy, I am asking Channel 4 News viewers to nominate one the novel they would place under the nose of a man (or boy) who does not read novels.

I’ll do a top ten next week in time for World Book Night on 23 April, but I will start with a paragraph from mine: “Well, all of a sudden there is a terrible racket at the front door of the Woodcock Inn, with some doll doing a lot of hollering in a deep voice that sounds like a man’s, and naturally everybody turns and looks that way. The doorman, a guy by the name of Slugsy Sachs, who is a very hard man indeed, seems to be trying to keep somebody out, but pretty soon there is a heavy bump and Slugsy Sachs falls down, and in comes a doll about four feet high and five feet wide.”

It’s from More Than Somewhat, by Damon Runyon. It’s got love, violence, humour and, if you don’t like grammar, you only have to worry about one tense: the present.

Tweet your book nominations to #c4booksforblokes by Tuesday, and follow @paulmasonnews on Twitter